General Warns Of 'Spectacular' Plots
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  1. #1

    Cool General Warns Of 'Spectacular' Plots

    General Warns Of 'Spectacular' Plots
    Associated Press
    January 8, 2005

    BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. general warned Friday that insurgents may be planning "spectacular" attacks to scare voters in the three weeks before Iraq's landmark elections, and Shiite and Sunni religious leaders voiced sharply divergent views on whether the vote should be held at all.
    Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, who is deputy chief of staff for strategic communications in Iraq, said the United States has no intelligence indicating specific plots, but he said American leaders expected a rise in attacks.

    He said the insurgents' biggest weapon was their ability to instill fear.

    "I think a worst case is where they have a series of horrific attacks that cause mass casualties in some spectacular fashion in the days leading up to the elections," Lessel said.

    "If you look over the last six months, they have steadily escalated the barbaric nature of the attacks they have been committing. A year ago, you didn't see these kinds of horrific things," he said.

    In Washington, President Bush expressed optimism about the Jan. 30 elections, saying they will be "an incredibly hopeful experience," despite rising violence and doubts that the vote will bring stability and democracy.

    "I know it's hard but it's hard for a reason," Bush said, adding that the insurgents are trying to impede the elections because they fear freedom. He acknowledged security problems in four of Iraq's 18 provinces.

    The comments came amid an escalating insurgency ahead of the parliamentary vote believed to be led by minority Sunnis whose dominated the country during Saddam Hussein's regime. In the election - the first democratic vote in Iraq since the country was formed in 1932 - the Sunnis are certain to lose their dominance to the Shiites, who comprise 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million population.

    Reflecting Shiites' demands to hold the vote as scheduled, and Sunnis' calls for a boycott or postponement, two senior religious leaders expressed sharply differing views during Friday prayers.

    "We want all the Iraqis to participate, we also insist on holding the elections as scheduled and to put these elections behind us as a way to end the conflict in Iraq," Saadr Aldeen al-Qubbanji, a leader of a prominent Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said in the southern city of Najaf.

    "We all want elections, but we are seeking fair and free elections," Sheik Mahmoud Al-Somaidie of the Sunnis' Association of Muslim Scholars said in Baghdad. "Those of us who are calling for postponement are seeking that for the benefit of the country. Elections have to be an Iraqi demand not the demand of the foreign countries."

    The United States insists on holding the vote as planned, and strongly opposes a postponement.

    This week has seen a string of assassinations, suicide car bombings and other assaults that killed more than 90 people, mostly Iraqi security troops, who are seen by the militants as collaborators with the American occupiers. The insurgency is apparently intended to scare voters.

    On Friday, a police captain was killed in a drive-by shooting in Abu Ghraib west of Baghdad, police said. In the northern city of Mosul, gunmen shot to death a policeman walking near his house. And in the central city of Samarra, a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. military base, killing an Iraqi, police Capt. Hashim Yassin said.

    The assaults came a day after a roadside bomb killed seven U.S. soldiers in Baghdad, the deadliest attack on American forces since a suicide strike in Mosul 2 1/2 weeks ago that killed 22 people, including 14 U.S. soldiers. Two Marines also were killed in western Iraq on Thursday.

    Also Friday, a Marine was killed in a non-hostile vehicle accident in the western province of Anbar, the U.S. military said. The incident is under investigation, and the name of the Marine was being withheld until his family can be notified.

    In the village of Naimiyah, hundreds of refugees from the nearby city of Fallujah demonstrated after Friday's prayers, demanding that U.S. and Iraqi forces leave the city, open all the roads for residents to go back, and pay compensation for property damaged during the U.S. military assault against the insurgent stronghold in November.

    Lessel said he expects the insurgents would escalate attacks before the election, and that the incidents would probably decline after the vote.

    "What the terrorists fear most is a simple piece of paper called a ballot," he said. "They fear the election. I think successful elections will have a significant impact on the insurgents."


  2. #2

    Cool Jury Seated For Abu Ghraib Trial

    Jury Seated For Abu Ghraib Trial
    Associated Press
    January 8, 2005

    FORT HOOD, Texas - A jury of 10 soldiers was selected Friday to decide whether the accused ringleader of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal was illegally beating inmates or following orders to soften up the detainees for interrogation.
    Opening statements begin Monday in the court-martial of Spc. Charles Graner Jr., of Uniontown, Pa., the first soldier to be tried in the scandal.

    Graner, pictured in some of the notorious photographs of Iraqi inmates being sexually humiliated at the Baghdad prison, sat calmly at the defense table Friday and may testify on his own behalf. He was upbeat when speaking to reporters after the jury was picked.

    "The sun is shining, the sky is blue and this is America," Graner said. "Whatever happens is going to happen, but I still feel it's going to be on the positive side."

    The jury is made up of four male officers and six enlisted men, all stationed at Fort Hood and all of whom had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

    "This case involves terrorists and insurgents and the war on terrorism," defense attorney Guy Womack said later. "We could not pick a truer jury of peers than to have a combat veteran tried by combat veterans."

    Womack has said he plans to argue Graner was ordered by higher-ranking soldiers and intelligence agents to soften up the detainees for interrogators, and had no choice but to obey. Graner's trial will be an important first test of that argument.

    At least seven jurors must vote guilty for Graner to be convicted on charges that include conspiracy to maltreat Iraqi detainees, assault, dereliction of duty and committing indecent acts. He faces up to 17 1/2 years in a military prison if convicted on all counts.

    Womack said his client and other low-level soldiers were scapegoats and the acts of higher-ranking officers who directed the abuse were being ignored.

    "If I was prosecuting this case, (Graner and others) would be witnesses and we'd be going after the officers and senior enlisted who gave these orders," he said. "We have to hold the order-giver to a higher standard than the person who was following the order."

    Prosecutors are not legally allowed to comment on the case.

    Graner, 36, appears in one photo giving a thumbs-up behind a pile of naked Iraqis. In another he is cocking his fist as if to punch a detainee.

    On Thursday night, Graner gave KTRK-TV of Houston a photo of himself smiling with three men in orange jumpsuits, one of whom is also smiling with his thumb up. Graner said the men were Abu Ghraib prisoners, and that the smiling man was the same one who was photographed standing on a box with a hood over his head and wires attached to his body.

    Womack told The Associated Press that the photo was taken with Graner's camera after the alleged abuse incidents. He said it was released after he and his client talked about how other photos from Abu Ghraib had been taken out of context.

    A list of potential witnesses was released during jury selection.

    Among them are the four other soldiers who have reached plea deals after being charged with Abu Ghraib abuses: Pvt. Ivan Frederick, Spc. Megan Ambuhl, Spc. Jeremy Sivits and Spc. Armin Cruz. They received sentences ranging from demotion to eight years in prison.

    Also on the list was Sgt. Joseph Darby, the soldier who was the first to report his colleagues were abusing Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib.

    In addition, three Iraqi detainees were expected to testify in videotaped depositions.

    Three more soldiers from the Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company unit are also awaiting trial at Fort Hood. Among them is Lynndie England, who in October gave birth to a child who Army prosecutors say was the result of a relationship with Graner.

    Charges against England have not yet been formally filed, and her trial date has not been set.


  3. #3

    Cool Sergeant Convicted Of Assault

    Sergeant Convicted Of Assault
    Associated Press
    January 8, 2005

    FORT HOOD, Texas - An Army sergeant was acquitted Friday of involuntary manslaughter in the alleged drowning of an Iraqi civilian who was forced into the Tigris River by U.S. soldiers for violating curfew. The jury, however, convicted Army Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Perkins, 33, of assault in the January 2004 incident.
    Defense attorneys contended the victim may still be alive, but say if he is dead, it was not at the hands of U.S. soldiers.

    The jury of Army officers and enlisted members, who deliberated 17 hours over two days, were allowed to consider lesser charges against Perkins, who has been in the military for 14 years.

    Perkins and another soldier were accused of ordering soldiers to push two Iraqis into the river in Samarra. Prosecutors say Zaidoun Hassoun, 19, drowned and his cousin, Marwan Hassoun, climbed out the river.

    Marwan Hassoun testified that he and his cousin were detained while driving back to Samarra with plumbing supplies, then forced at gunpoint into the river as U.S. soldiers laughed.

    He said he tried to save his cousin by grabbing his hand, but the powerful current swept Zaidoun away. Marwan said the body was found in the river nearly two weeks later.

    "I was fighting death. I had no other choice but to do everything possible to survive," Marwan testified through an interpreter.

    But three soldiers called by the defense testified that they were looking through night-vision equipment that night and saw two Iraqis on the river bank after the incident.

    Sgt. Irene Cintron, an Army investigator, testified that government officials never had Zaidoun's body exhumed for testing because of security concerns. She said she could not confirm whether the corpse shown in a video provided by the family was Zaidoun's.

    Perkins was convicted of assault consummated by battery in Zaidoun's purported death, which carries a maximum sentence of six months. He was convicted of aggravated assault in connection with Marwan Hassoun.

    Perkins also was convicted of aggravated assault for ordering a soldier to throw another Iraqi man into the river in December 2003 near Balad, and of obstruction of justice. He was found innocent of making a false statement.

    The sentencing phase of the trial was scheduled to begin Saturday. Perkins' penalty ranges from no punishment to 11 1/2 years.

    Defense attorney Capt. Josh Norris said in closing arguments that the soldiers were trying to find non-lethal ways to deter crime and establish respect in the hostile area.

    No soldiers disputed that the two Iraqis were forced into the river. Soldiers testifying for the prosecution and defense said they never heard Perkins order the Iraqis into the river and that he stayed in his vehicle that night.

    The soldiers said the orders came from Army 1st Lt. Jack Saville, the platoon leader, who is to be tried in March on the same charges as Perkins - as well as a conspiracy charge. His trial was postponed until March after a judge ordered the victim's body to be exhumed for an autopsy and identification.


  4. #4
    Marine sniper credited with longest confirmed kill in Iraq

    by Cpl. Paul W. Leicht
    3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

    AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Seen through a twenty-power spot scope, terrorists scrambled to deliver another mortar round into the tube. Across the Euphrates River from a concealed rooftop, the Marine sniper breathed gently and then squeezed a few pounds of pressure to the delicate trigger of the M40A3 sniper rifle in his grasp.

    The rifle's crack froze the booming Fallujah battle like a photograph. As he moved the bolt back to load another round of 7.62mm ammunition, the sniper's spotter confirmed the terrorist went down from the shot mere seconds before the next crack of the rifle dropped another.

    It wasn't the sniper's first kill in Iraq, but it was one for the history books.

    On Nov. 11, 2004, while coalition forces fought to wrest control of Fallujah from a terrorist insurgency, Marine scout snipers with Company B, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, applied their basic infantry skills and took them to a higher level.

    "From the information we have, our chief scout sniper has the longest confirmed kill in Iraq so far," said Capt. Shayne McGinty, weapons platoon commander for "Bravo" Co. "In Fallujah there were some bad guys firing mortars at us and he took them out from more than 1,000 yards."

    During the battle for the war-torn city, 1/23 Marine scout snipers demonstrated with patience, fearless initiative and wits that well-trained Marines could be some of the deadliest weapons in the world.

    "You really don't have a threat here until it presents itself," said Sgt. Herbert B. Hancock, chief scout sniper, 1/23, and a 35-year-old police officer from Bryan, Texas, whose specialized training and skill helped save the lives of his fellow Marines during the battle. "In Fallujah we really didn't have that problem because it seemed like everybody was shooting at us. If they fired at us we just dropped them."

    Stepping off on day one of the offensive from the northern edge of the Fallujah peninsula, the Marine reservists of 1/23, with their scout snipers, moved to secure a little island, but intense enemy fire near the bridgeheads limited their advance. Insurgents littered the city, filtering in behind their positions with indirect mortar and sniper fire.

    "The insurgents started figuring out what was going on and started hitting us from behind, hitting our supply lines," said Hancock in his syrupy Texas drawl. "Originally we set up near a bridge and the next day we got a call on our radio that our company command post was receiving sniper fire. We worked our way back down the peninsula trying to find the sniper, but on the way down we encountered machinegun fire and what sounded like grenade launchers or mortars from across the river."

    With a fire team of grunts pinned down nearby, Hancock and his spotter, Cpl. Geoffrey L. Flowers, a May 2004 graduate of Scout Sniper School, helped them out by locating the source of the enemy fire.

    "After locating the gun position we called in indirect fire to immediate suppress that position and reduced it enough so we could also punch forward and get into a house," explained Hancock. "We got in the house and started to observe the area from which the insurgents were firing at us. They hit us good for about twenty minutes and were really hammering us. Our indirect fire (landed on) them and must have been effective because they didn't shoot anymore after that."

    Continuing south down the peninsula to link up with the Bravo Co. command post, Hancock and Flowers next set up on a big building, taking a couple shots across the river at some suspected enemy spotters in vehicles.

    "The insurgents in the vehicles were spotting for the mortar rounds coming from across the river so we were trying to locate their positions to reduce them as well as engage the vehicles," said Hancock. "There were certain vehicles in areas where the mortars would hit. They would show up and then stop and then the mortars would start hitting us and then the vehicles would leave so we figured out that they were spotters. We took out seven of those guys in one day."

    Later, back at the company command post, enemy mortar rounds once again began to impact.

    "There were several incoming rockets and mortars to our compound that day and there was no way the enemy could have seen it directly, so they probably had some spotters out there," said 22-year-old Flowers who is a college student from Pearland, Texas.

    " Our (company commander) told us to go find where the mortars were coming from and take them out so we went back out," remembered Hancock. "We moved south some more and linked up with the rear elements of our first platoon. Then we got up on a building and scanned across the river. We looked out of the spot scope and saw about three to five insurgents manning a 120mm mortar tube. We got the coordinates for their position and set up a fire mission. We decided that when the rounds came in that I would engage them with the sniper rifle. We got the splash and there were two standing up looking right at us. One had a black (outfit) on. I shot and he dropped. Right in front of him another got up on his knees looking to try and find out where we were so I dropped him too. After that our mortars just hammered the position, so we moved around in on them."

    The subsequent fire for effect landed right on the insurgent mortar position.

    "We adjusted right about fifty yards where there were two other insurgents in a small house on the other side of the position," said Flowers. "There was some brush between them and the next nearest building about 400 yards south of where they were at and we were about 1,000 yards from them so I guess they thought we could not spot them. Some grunts were nearby with binoculars but they could not see them, plus they are not trained in detailed observation the way we are. We know what to look for such as target indicators and things that are not easy to see."

    Hancock and Flowers then scanned several areas that they expected fire from, but the enemy mortars had silenced.

    "After we had called in indirect fire and after all the adjustments from our mortars, I got the final 8-digit grid coordinates for the enemy mortar position, looked at our own position using GPS and figured out the distance to the targets we dropped to be 1,050 yards," said Flowers with a grin. "This time we were killing terrorism from more than 1,000 yards."


  5. #5
    Near Fallujah, Marine metal workers weld life-saving vehicle armor

    by Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin
    1st FSSG

    CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Standing on top of a Humvee, blowtorch in hand in the middle of Iraq, Cpl. Ray C. Rollins contemplates why he joined the Marine Corps nearly four years ago.

    Putting down the blowtorch he was using to weld a steel plate to the backside of the truck, he smiles and gives his reply: "I was told I couldn't make it in the Marine Corps," he said. "I hate being told I can't do something, so I did it just to prove I could."

    The 23-year-old Marine reservist from Dublin, Texas, is a welder by trade back in the civilian sector for a local company called Welder Riggs Machine and Welding.

    In the Marine Corps, he is a mechanic, but often can be found crossing the short distance of gravel which separates his work area from the two tents which house the welders' work area. He loves welding, he says, and frequently stops by to see if his fellow Marines has any welding work he can help with.

    The welders are part of Combat Service Support Company 122, a unit that provides vehicle recovery and maintenance services for Marine units operating throughout western Iraq.

    Since arriving in Iraq with the rest of CSSC-122 in September, Rollins' skills have come in particularly good use. CSSC-122's welders - six Marines in all - worked around the clock to weld armor on more than 115 military vehicles used for convoys and patrols during the height of Fallujah combat operations.

    Using both pre-fabricated kits of armor and scrap metal from inoperable vehicles, these Marines have welded extra armor onto doors, back panels, gun mounts, and undersides of everything from trucks to bulldozers to help protect Marines operating inside the "City of Mosques."

    "We're the guys who protect the rifle carriers and make sure they come home to their families," said Sgt. David M. Liske, the welding shop's noncommissioned officer in charge. "They want to come home to their families just like the rest of us."

    From a distance, Liske's Marines could be mistaken for a crew of mechanics in an automobile shop in "Anywhere, U.S.A." Instead of the tan and brown digital camouflage uniforms most Marines wear, these Marines don dirty, faded coveralls and boots sprinkled with random burn marks, a trademark of their welding operations. Tools line the racks inside one of two tents the Marine welders use as a workshop. Country music echoes throughout the tent.

    "Hell, I've been through quite a few coveralls and boots," said Liske, who serves as a full-time firefighter back in Rock Island, Ill., when he's not serving in Iraq. "It comes with the job."

    "How many coveralls you been through?" Liske asks one of his metal workers, Lance Cpl. Adam L. Schroeder, a 20-year-old Plattville, Wis., native.

    Placing a piece of a Humvee engine on one of the workshop's tables, Schroeder takes the cigarette he's smoking out of his mouth to answer: "At least five or six," he said.

    Welders they may be, but they are Marines first. As they are working, a Marine from a nearby shop calls out to Liske, "Man the berms!"

    Upon hearing these three words, the Marines put down their tools, extinguish their cigarettes, put on their helmets and body armor, grab their rifles and hustle to pre-staged fighting positions along the fenced-in perimeter which separates CSSC-122's lot from the outside world.

    Although insurgents are not attacking the base, the combat drill keeps the Marines alert and ready for action in the event of an impending attack. Just several days before Christmas, an explosion inside at a dining facility at a U.S. military base in Camp in Mosul killed more than 20 people.

    "It's a reminder we're still in a war," said Liske, 34.

    Like many reserve Marines throughout the United States, Liske was activated and served during the initial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom last year. A 15-year veteran of the Marines, he originally signed up to serve within the crash, fire and rescue field of the Marine Corps, putting his fireman skills to use in the military. However, according to Liske, a mistake on his recruiter's part put him on the path to becoming a metal worker following boot camp, a mistake he says he's glad was made, in retrospect.

    "Instead of putting out fires, they've got me building them," he said, leaning on the hood of a Humvee currently being outfitted with additional armor plating for CSSC-122's sister company, CSSC-115.

    While armored vehicles have been a recent concern for some U.S. servicemembers serving in the Global War on Terrorism, it has not been a large concern for Marines here. CSSC-122's welders were putting armor on vehicles up to an hour before Marine infantry units invaded Fallujah on Nov. 8, ensuring Marines didn't face the city's dangers, such as improvised explosive devices and enemy small arms fire, unprotected.

    Lance Cpl. Able G. Rodriguez, a 29-year-old military policeman with Combat Service Support Battalion 1's MP detachment here, is certainly thankful for the armor he had on his Humvee during a vehicle recovery mission Nov. 7, 2004 - the day before Operation Al Fajr began.

    The MPs provide security for convoys and vehicle recovery missions outside the base, and have experienced their fair share of attacks by insurgents. Rodriguez was manning a 50-caliber machine gun when he and the other Marines' vehicles began receiving enemy rifle fire. Before the MPs could locate the insurgents and return fire, the shield plate mounted around Rodriguez' machine gun was hit by rifle fire at least four times, he said.

    While the Marines' vehicles have armor to some degree, some units like to have their vehicles' armor up-graded for additional protection, especially when facing the unknown dangers of Iraq.

    IEDs have been one of the deadliest threats to American servicemembers operating on Iraq's roadways. For the Marine truck drivers and military policemen of the various combat service support units that convoy supplies to Marines throughout Iraq, extra armor on vehicles can mean the difference between life and death on Iraq's roadways.

    Without the armor on his machine gun mount Nov. 7, armor installed by CSSC-122, Rodriguez would not be standing here today, he said.

    "They (enemy rounds) would have been dead on me," said the Brookshire, Texas, native. "You could hear the impacts of the rounds against the shield. Without that armor, the whole situation would have played out a lot differently."

    In addition to welding armor, CSSC-122's welders have also constructed more than 140 "hedgehogs" - spiked barriers used to impede vehicle movement.

    For the MPs, the welders cut hooked shards of metal, sharpened them, and welded them to a steel plate base - instant road spikes.

    "They call us 'Fallujah's Monster Garage,'" said Schroeder.

    The other Marines laugh at the comment.

    "Yeah, we can make just about anything," said Liske, who admits the Marines have had to be creative when improvising armor plating and constructing various other tools to assist Marines' operating inside the city.

    Using two large metal doors from a 7-ton truck, the Marines are currently constructing a back panel for the Humvee to provide additional rear protection for the driver and passenger. They are also adding sheet metal to both doors for additional protection against an attack from either side.

    Lance Cpl. Juan F. Montellano, a 6-foot, 2-inch, Marine from Tucson, Ariz., and metal worker, is busy measuring and marking a piece of sheet metal which will later be cut into smaller pieces and used to help up-armor the Humvee.

    Montellano recalled the long hours he and the other welders worked to ensure his fellow Marines in the city have protection on their vehicles, a task he is glad to have been a part of, he said. Montellano lost three close friends in Iraq, including his best friend from high school.

    His father told him the news of his friend's death over the phone, said Montellano, a 21-year-old first-generation American who speaks with a slight Hispanic accent. When asked about his reaction to the news, Montellano, known as "Monty" to his fellow metal workers, pauses a moment with a sullen look on his face before answering.

    "I was angry at the insurgents. I wanted to go out there and kill them, but I got to stay focused," he said. "I'm here to make a difference. That's why I'm in (the Marine Corps.)"

    Though the Marine Corps has taught him to work well with others, Montellano plans on getting out of the Marine Corps after his four-year enlistment is over to pursue other interests. Lighting up another cigarette, he explains that he plans on attending an apprenticeship school to pursue welding full-time.

    When he returns home from Iraq, he plans on going on a much-needed vacation with his wife, Suzette.

    Like many Marines here, Montellano tries not to dwell on the future to much, but rather stay focused on the task at hand - serving his time in Iraq, an experience which he has forged new friendships as well as steel plates on the back of Humvees.

    "We're brothers here," he said, speaking with the same conviction he uses when speaking about his wife and daughter back home at Camp Pendleton, Calif. "Stick close, and if you have a problem, let me know. I'll take care of you. That's the way it is out here."

    As Schroeder and Rollins continue to fuse steel plates to the CSSC-115 Humvee, two U.S. soldiers drive up in a tan-colored Humvee. They talk to Liske about making an addition to their Humvee.

    "They want armor, we give 'em armor," said Liske. "You hear about a vehicle being attacked by an IED, and then you hear that the armor saved three guys in the back of the vehicle. As long as these guys come back alive, that's gratification enough for us."


  6. #6
    January 10, 2005

    Rushing down the aisle
    Deployments force service members to prioritize

    By Karen Jowers
    Times staff writer

    While Army Pfc. Mike Aros-Truhe was in training at Fort Polk, La., he made up his mind he wanted to marry his sweetheart before he deployed to Iraq.
    At first, the couple planned to wait until he returned. But that changed during his training at Fort Polk.

    “He came back and said he wanted to get married, because he wanted to spend as much time together as possible before going to Iraq,” said Kelly Aros-Truhe, 24.

    They discussed the pros and cons.

    Pro: They’d be spending time together, starting a life together.

    Con: He’d be gone for a year.

    Pro: A wedding when he returned from Iraq could be extra stress for him, after a stressful deployment.

    But most of all, Kelly said, “He’d have another reason to come home. It would put an extra bit of fight in him.”

    They got married Oct. 9 in Connecticut, scrambling to pull the wedding together in one month.

    They have a lot of company: According to Defense Department statistics, more than 15 percent of active-duty troops deploying in 2003 and 2004 got married within a year of their deployment.

    Marriage license bureaus near military bases have been busy.

    “When deployments occur, we absolutely see a significant increase,” said Gregory J. Smith, county assessor, recorder, county clerk and commissioner of marriages for San Diego County, Calif.

    Because of the recent increase in marriages, Smith sent letters to local chaplains and public affairs offices, offering to have someone from his office meet with chaplains to explain the marriage license process to help interested couples make sure they meet the requirements. To save time, they can download and fill out the application before coming to the office, at

    San Diego County also tries to accommodate people whose relatives can’t make it to the wedding. For an extra $25, you can get married at the Arbor of Love, in front of a live Webcam, so your friends and family can watch.

    Many couples, like the Aros-Truhes, are moving up their wedding date.

    “They tell us they’re doing a civil ceremony because the deployment messed up their plans, and they will have a bigger wedding later,” said Diane Fisher, assistant register of deeds for vital records for Cumberland County, N.C., which includes Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base.

    Employees in the vital records office in Fayetteville, N.C., don’t need news reports to tell them when deployments are coming up.

    “Sometimes we start seeing an increase and ask if there’s going to be a deployment,” Fisher said. For example, Friday, Dec. 3, was a busy day with 33 applications, and a number of troops deployed the following Sunday.

    An estimated 50 percent to 60 percent of those who apply for marriage licenses in Cumberland County are military — mostly soldiers, with some airmen, said Lee Warren, county register of deeds. After applying for their license, a couple can walk to a nearby magistrate who can perform the marriage ceremony right then.

    In San Diego County, Smith said the weddings are “a wonderful sight to see. We have long, wide corridors, and the marriage room is at the end of the hall. The most striking vision I have is of a Marine walking down the hall to the marriage room, his fiancée on his arm. All these people there doing business, paying taxes, etc., stop and step aside. It’s like a huge reception line.

    “People stop in the halls and congratulate them, not only for their marriage, but thank them for their service in defending our country,” Smith said. “Almost everyone claps when they see the bride. Little kids clap.”

    Marine Staff Sgts. Micheal and Angela Mink, who had been friends for several years, realized their relationship had grown into more while he was deployed from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. On July 16, 2003, when he returned, “he pulled me aside and said, ‘I love you. I can’t live without you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you,’” Angela said.

    They set a date for May.

    But the day she put down the deposit for their wedding ceremony at a California beach cottage, she found out she was deploying to Iraq on Feb. 26.

    At dinner that night, Angela said, “He told me he did not want me to deploy without his name. He wanted us to be a real family.”

    Instead of the cottage on the beach, they wound up at a civil ceremony at the San Diego County offices. The couple sent out a last-minute e-mail to their friends and were amazed to see Marines from many locations at the ceremony. Angela’s boss, a lieutenant, and another lieutenant’s wife applied her makeup. The Marines bought her jewelry.

    “Everything happened for a reason,” Angela said. “It was so perfect. Even if I could go back and have a wedding on the beach, I wouldn’t trade it.”

    Wartime weddings are not a new phenomenon.

    “Since we’ve been a nation, any crisis, any separation for an extended period of time, alters plans,” said Army Col. Joel Cocklin, the installation command chaplain at Fort Benning, Ga., where there’s been a recent increase in marriages among soldiers with the 3rd Brigade, which began deploying in December.

    Based on his 23 years as an Army chaplain, Cocklin said, “These marriages have every bit of the chance of succeeding. The bottom line is: A strong marriage will survive deployments.

    “These are not people jumping into marriage for the wrong reasons,” he said. “The commitment level is there. They know they are going into harm’s way. People are not putting themselves at emotional risk for reasons that are not commitment-centered. They’re saying, ‘I want to be your wife/husband so much, to the degree that if you don’t come back, I will have been your wife/husband.’”

    Kelly Aros-Truhe said she knows she made the right decision. Their marriage has had a calming effect on her new husband, in the midst of deployment preparations.

    “When he comes home from work, it’s a stress reliever to see me. This is a whole other world” outside his military job, she said. “He lights up when he sees me.”


  7. #7
    2 Twentynine Palms Marines killed
    Each died in separate battles in Al Anbar, base reports

    By Toshi Maeda
    The Desert Sun
    January 8th, 2005

    Deadly enemy fire in Iraq killed two Marines deployed from Twentynine Palms Wednesday, bringing the total Iraq war death toll among the service members deployed from this high desert base to 53.

    The two Marines -- Sgt. Zachariah Davis, 25, and Lance Cpl. Julio CisnerosAlvarez, 22 -- were killed in separate enemy attacks in Al Anbar Province west of Baghdad, military officials said.

    Al Anbar is Iraq’s largest province that contains the city of Fallujah and is home to a large portion of Sunni Muslims.

    "Those were two separate occasions in two separate cities," said Gunnery Sgt. Frank Patterson, spokes-man for the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms.

    "It was just a coincidence" that the two Marines from the Twentynine Palms base were killed on the same day in the same province, Patterson said, declining to give further details on the circumstances of their deaths.

    The two Marines were the first casualties this year among more than 1,000 Marines currently being deployed with 14 units from the Twentynine Palms base in Iraq.

    Most of them are on a nine-month mission that started in September .

    The Twentynine Palms combat center, the nation’s largest Marine Corps base where about 20,000 Marines are stationed, lost 11 Marines and one sailor in Iraq in 2003 and 39 Marines in 2004.

    Davis, who was married with two sons, was born in Placerville and joined the Marines Corps in 1998.

    This was his second deployment to Iraq, following the first one in 2003.

    Davis was a light armored vehicle crewman with the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, which is conducting support and stabilization operations in Iraq, Patterson said.

    Davis is survived by his wife, Angela, of Twentynine Palms, and sons, Landen and Gabriel. He is also survived by his father, Terry Davis of Twentynine Palms, and mother Kathy Owens of Spiro, Okla.

    Lance Cpl. CisnerosAlvarez was a machine gunner with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, which also conducts support and stabilization operations in Iraq, Patterson said.

    CisnerosAlvarez was born in Reynosa, Mexico, and raised in Pharr, Texas.

    He joined the Marine Corps in 2003 and was deployed to Iraq in September.

    CisnerosAlvarez is survived by his mother, Senobia, of Pharr, Texas, and his father, Julio.


  8. #8
    Militants Kidnap 3 Senior Iraqi Officials

    By DUSAN STOJANOVIC, Associated Press Writer

    BAGHDAD, Iraq - Militants abducted three senior Iraqi officials, beheaded a man who worked for the U.S. military and killed at least four others, officials said Saturday, a day after a U.S. general warned that insurgents may be planning "horrific" attacks ahead of Jan. 30 elections.

    Meanwhile, Shiite and Sunni religious leaders voiced sharply divergent views on whether the vote should be held at all.

    Air Force Brig. Gen. Erv Lessel, a senior deputy for Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq (news - web sites), said American leaders expected a rise in attacks before the election, but they had no intelligence indicating specific plots.

    "I think a worst case is where they have a series of horrific attacks that cause mass casualties in some spectacular fashion in the days leading up to the elections," Lessel said Friday.

    "If you look over the last six months, they have steadily escalated the barbaric nature of the attacks they have been committing. A year ago, you didn't see these kinds of horrific things."

    In Washington, President Bush (news - web sites) said the elections will be "an incredibly hopeful experience" despite rising violence and doubts that the vote will bring stability and democracy. He acknowledged security problems in four of Iraq's 18 provinces.

    "I know it's hard but it's hard for a reason," Bush said.

    The comments came amid an escalating insurgency believed to be led by minority Sunnis, who dominated the country during Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s regime. In the election — the first democratic vote in Iraq since the country was formed in 1932 — the Sunnis are certain to lose their dominance to the Shiites, who comprise 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.

    Reflecting Shiites' demands to hold the vote as scheduled and Sunnis' calls for a boycott or postponement, two senior religious leaders expressed sharply differing views during Friday prayers.

    "We want all the Iraqis to participate, we also insist on holding the elections as scheduled and to put these elections behind us as a way to end the conflict in Iraq," Saadr Aldeen al-Qubbanji, a leader of a prominent Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said in the southern city of Najaf.

    But Sheik Mahmoud Al-Somaidie of the Sunnis' Association of Muslim Scholars favored postponing the vote.

    "We all want elections, but we are seeking fair and free elections," he said in Baghdad. "Those of us who are calling for postponement are seeking that for the benefit of the country. Elections have to be an Iraqi demand, not the demand of the foreign countries."

    The United States insists on holding the vote as scheduled and strongly opposes a postponement.

    This week has seen a string of assassinations, suicide car bombings and other assaults that killed nearly 100 people, mostly Iraqi security forces, who are seen by the militants as collaborators with the American occupiers.

    Authorities in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit said Saturday that gunmen abducted a deputy governor of a central Iraqi province and two other senior officials as they traveled to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most prominent Shiite leader, in the holy city of Najaf to discuss national elections.

    The delegation was stopped and the members kidnapped about 40 miles south of Baghdad on Friday. The area is in the so-called "triangle of death," a string of Sunni-controlled towns that have been the scene of frequent attacks.

    The U.S. military said the delegation was traveling in two cars — one of which managed to escape the militants' ambush.

    "Those insurgents and terrorists who intimidate and resort to kidnapping public officials are the true enemies of the Iraqi people," said U.S. military spokesman Maj. Neal O'Brien.

    In Baqouba, insurgents broke into the house of a translator working with the U.S. Army and then beheaded him, police said Saturday. An Iraqi policeman was killed by masked gunmen as he left his house in Baghdad's southern Dora neighborhood.

    A booby-trapped car blew up Saturday at a gas station in Mahaweel, about 35 miles south of Baghdad. One man was killed and several others were injured, police said.

    In Baghdad's western neighborhood of Khadraa, gunmen shot dead Abboud Khalaf al-Lahibi, deputy secretary-general of the National Front for Iraqi tribes — a group representing several Iraqi tribes, said his aide, Ibrahim al-Farhan. A bodyguard was killed and three other people were wounded in the attack, he said.

    Also Saturday, gunmen kidnapped Mohammed Khodr, a representative of the Human Rights Organization in Iraq, in the town of Riyadh, some 28 miles southwest of Kirkuk, police said.

    The U.S. military said Saturday that 48 suspected insurgents were detained in separate search operations in different parts of Iraq on Friday.

    A U.S. soldier also was killed Friday in a non-hostile vehicle accident in the western province of Anbar, the U.S. military said. The incident is under investigation, and the Marine's name was being withheld pending notification of the family.


  9. #9
    Pentagon To Address Hot Spots
    Associated Press
    January 8, 2005

    WASHINGTON - The military will have plenty to do in the four years of a second Bush administration. While the war in Iraq figures to dominate all else, as it has the past two years, other potential hot spots could demand attention.
    And overshadowing all will be the questions of whether the military has enough troops - and money - to do everything the administration has planned.

    "Conventional wisdom says that most of our assets are going to be involved in Iraq," said Peter Brookes, an assistant defense secretary for Asia at the start of President Bush's first term.

    "But you're just not sure what sort of things are going to develop ... flare up," the Heritage Foundation analyst said, wondering about the possibility of issues arising with China, Taiwan and North Korea.

    Consider the tsunami in Asia. The Pentagon is devoting more than 13,000 troops, an aircraft carrier and dozens of aircraft to humanitarian relief.

    As for new combat operations, the seeds of possible military conflict have been germinating for some time in Iran, Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere, analysts said.

    Right now, some 150,000 American troops are trying to stabilize an increasingly violent Iraq, with no time table for when they can leave.

    "At the Pentagon, policy-makers are utterly absorbed with Iraq," said analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute.

    The military also must anticipate and plan for increased China-Taiwan tensions; troubled diplomatic efforts to halt suspected Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs; and the struggles by Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to hold his nation together while he allies himself with U.S. counterterror efforts in the face of violent disapproval from domestic Islamic fundamentalists.

    Massive tasks that can't be finished but on which defense officials need to make headway in the next four years include the transformation of the military and its weapons systems toward a more modern force, the moving and closing of some overseas bases, and another round of closings of domestic military bases.

    "What happens is that they have all these things on their plate ... things being nudged along like a peanut with your nose, and then there's a fire you have to put out," Brookes said.

    Defense officials are trying to figure out how to offset the unexpectedly high cost of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among cost-saving ideas being discussed are retiring one of the Navy's 12 aircraft carriers and reducing the Air Force's purchase of F-22 stealth fighters, officials say.

    But it could cost an additional $3 billion a year to expand the 512,000-strong Army by 30,000 soldiers, something a senior Army official this week said they may have to do. The Army has the authority to add the soldiers but arranged for it to be only a temporary boost because it did not want a long-term commitment to the cost of a larger force.

    The fact that the military is severely stretched restrains those who might be tempted to use force in new places, Thompson said.

    "Inner counsels at the White House - people like Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - would very much like to do something about troublemakers like Iran and Syria, but in order to act on that impulse they would need a much larger" force, he said.

    "We are not going to be looking for any wars of choice, that's for sure," The Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon said. "But if some of these things happen," he said of any flare-up surrounding Korea, Pakistan, Iran or Taiwan, "we won't have a choice."

    Without new provocations, analysts see little chance the administration would use force against North Korea. In Iran, by contrast, some think it somewhat more possible that there could be U.S. or Israeli action.

    On the issue of realigning U.S. forces around the world, Bush says he plans to move back to the states up to 70,000 uniformed personnel and 100,000 dependents, part of a worldwide plan to break down large Cold War-era bases and move smaller numbers of troops to places where they can more quickly respond to flare-ups.

    That effort can either be complicated or hastened by the continued deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, analysts said.

    "Any time you have a plan, you have to overlay with reality," said Brookes, noting that the two campaigns could require much of the military to stay in the Middle East region. "Right now you may need the bases in Germany that you had hoped to close ... this may have to be put off."

    "Alas, the current administration's rebasing plan, like the rest of its defense program, has partly become captive to the hope that the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq are temporary," American Enterprise Institute analyst Thomas Donnelly wrote in a recent paper.

    O'Hanlon disagreed, saying a plan to decrease troops in South Korea over the longrun, for instance, might be made easier by Iraq's needs. Troops sent from Korea this year to help temporarily in Iraq may never be built back up in Korea, he said.


  10. #10
    Spy Case Chaplain Honorably Discharged
    Associated Press
    January 8, 2005

    SEATTLE - A Muslim chaplain imprisoned for 76 days as part of an espionage investigation by the government has received an honorable discharge from the Army.
    Although Capt. James Yee has been cleared in the investigation, he resigned in August, saying officials never apologized to him. His discharge was effective at midnight Friday, said his civilian defense attorney, Eugene R. Fidell.

    "As a West Point graduate, he leaves the Army with great sadness," Fidell said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "The fact that he was imprisoned for a prolonged period for no valid reason remains indefensible."

    After he was exonerated, Yee returned in April to his home base of Fort Lewis, about 40 miles south of Seattle, and resumed his duties as a chaplain.

    An official announcement of Yee's discharge was not expected.

    "As a matter of practice, the Army doesn't publicly announce administrative actions such as officer resignations or soldiers leaving the Army," said Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, an Army spokeswoman at the Pentagon.

    Yee was taken into custody after the military initially linked him to a possible espionage ring at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where suspected terrorists are housed.

    The military charged Yee in 2003 with mishandling classified material, failing to obey an order, making a false official statement, adultery and conduct unbecoming an officer.

    All criminal charges were dismissed in March 2004, but Army officials found Yee guilty of the non-criminal charges of adultery and downloading pornography. The reprimand he received was thrown out by an Army general a month later.

    Yee submitted his letter of resignation to the Army in August, saying officials never apologized to him or allowed him to retrieve his belongings from Guantanamo Bay.

    Yee is now at home with his wife and daughter in Olympia, south of the Army base, and is not granting interviews, his attorney said.

    Fidell said Yee and his family were grateful for the support they have received, and that Yee looks forward "in due course to expressing his views about his experience."

    Fidell has previously said that after Yee leaves the military, he plans to finish his master's degree in international relations at Troy State University, which has a campus near Fort Lewis.


  11. #11
    NYC firefighter, former Marine thanks Bethesda, Walter Reed residents

    by Cpl. Lameen Witter
    NYC Public Affairs

    NEW YORK -- Doctors at the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., recently gave President George W. Bush a thorough medical examination and pronounced him fit for duty. Since its conception in 1938, Bethesda has been more than the president's hospital; facilities like Bethesda and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center are main treatment facilities for injured service members and their families.

    When John Vigiano, Fire Department City of New York (FDNY) fireman, former Marine, and charter member of the FDNY-USMC Association, learned he could visit wounded service members at Bethesda and Walter Reed in support of their recovery, he leapt at the chance.

    "I really felt honored to be allowed to spend some time with those kids and their families," said Vigiano.

    The helicopter crew chief of six years left the Corps in 1966, but never lost sight of the honor, courage, and commitment the Corps instilled in him. A father of two, he raised his sons, Joe and John Vigiano, to emulate those Corps values. Joe went on to become a police officer and John followed in his father's footsteps to the FDNY. Both served valiantly throughout their careers until they were killed on September 11, 2001 during the World Trade Center rescue.

    "On September 13th, I actually went down to see the rubble, and when I did I knew there were no survivors. I went down to the site everyday until we found Joe's body, but we never found John's body," said Vigiano, his voice heavy as he remembered the difficult time. "I was busting with pride with those two. They were outstanding men, and I never had any regrets regarding them."

    The former leatherneck joined with others who had lost loved ones during September 11, 2001, and visited the medical centers to thank the injured servicemembers for their contributions to the Global War on Terrorism since the twin towers of the World Trade Center were attacked.

    "I wanted to say thanks up close and in person to these kids who gave so much. I wanted them to know I appreciate their sacrifice," said Vigiano.

    Vigiano and the small group visited nearly 20 wounded Marines in each hospital, some of whom experienced combat as recently as November. Along with pins and stickers, he brought the patients New York Police and Fire Department hats and shirts donated by local units in the city. He also took $1,000 in donated funds and purchased calling cards for the servicemembers, which started with a $200 donation from John's old FDNY unit, Ladder 132, Engine 280.

    The smoke eater recalled during his visit to Bethesda one young sergeant who was with his wife and mother. The sergeant was showing the shrapnel that put him in the hospital when it ripped through his body. Vigiano shared the story of his sons, who gave their lives in the line of duty, and he thanked the young sergeant for his commitment.

    "The guy on the other side of the curtain in the room overheard the story I told the young sergeant and began to cry for me. (Those) boys were thanking me for my sacrifice. I told him, 'don't be upset, we're in this together'," said Vigiano with a sigh in his voice. "For anyone who wants to feel good about being an American...take the time and go visit these kids."

    For more information on how you can visit servicemembers at Walter Reed Army Center call (202) 782-3501. Call (301) 295-4000 and select option seven to learn how you can visit servicemembers at Naval Medical Center, Bethesda. According to the hospital staff, January, February, or March are good times to visit, but the visiting groups are limited to a maximum of six people.


  12. #12
    Marines try to plug border
    By Aamer Madhani and Colin McMahon
    Chicago Tribune staff reporters. Aamer Madhani reported from Walid and Colin McMahon from Baghdad
    Published January 8, 2005

    WALID, Iraq -- In Baghdad, Damascus and Washington, the debate over whether Syria is sponsoring the Iraqi insurgency by allowing fighters and weapons to flow across its borders is complex and ongoing, with accusations, denials and diplomatic explanations.

    Yet for the U.S. Marines stationed along the Iraq-Syria border in this patch of sand and tumbleweed called Walid, reality is even more complicated. Day after day, and despite a general ban on allowing Syrian men to enter Iraq, the Marines face a constant flow of people trying to cross the border, Syrians and those claiming to be Syrian, a steady stream of the inscrutable.

    The Marines' job is to stop them--an assignment not nearly so simple as it might seem--and to turn them away.

    "You get a lot of them who insist they are going to visit their dying mothers in Iraq," said Sgt. Steven Miller of suburban Kansas City, Mo. "Everyone seems to have a dying mother."

    No one can say definitively what these men really are up to, where they really come from and who might have sent them.

    Iraqi officials allege, more angrily of late, that the Syrian government is enabling Iraq's roiling insurgency. They say they have growing proof, from documents, informants and interrogations, that Iraqis operating openly in Syria are behind a flow of money, weapons, reinforcements and orders to the guerrillas.

    American officials are more cautious. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage left a weekend visit to Damascus praising the Syrians for tightening their border with Iraq. But he also warned that the United States was displeased with what it sees as, at least, Syrian coddling of insurgents.

    "He got some good-sounding words," a senior U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad said of Armitage's talks. "But we want actions, not words."

    On Thursday, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) arrived in Syria to discuss some of the same issues.

    Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi issued a vague warning last week, though he did not mention Syria by name.

    "Patience has limits," Allawi said, "and it is beginning to run out."

    A senior Iraqi official suggested that one option was cutting off trade of certain goods between Iraq and Syria if the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad failed to respond. News reports also indicate that the Bush administration is considering new financial sanctions against Damascus.

    The Syrians deny the charges, saying they have tightened the border and cracked down on radical Islamist groups. In addition, they say the Americans and Iraqis have failed to provide proof that would allow Syrian authorities to act. And they blame the insurgency on a botched American occupation for which Syria is being made a scapegoat.

    All this is of no immediate concern to the Marines in Walid and the rest of Anbar province, which they have dubbed Iraq's "Wild, Wild West."

    A large, Sunni-dominated region between Baghdad and the Syrian and Jordanian borders, Anbar province is home to the insurgent stronghold cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. It is also home to foreign fighters and guerrilla sympathizers who came to Iraq from or through Syria. Their numbers, whether in the scores or the hundreds, are a matter of frequent debate in Iraq and Washington.

    The U.S. military has been trying to stop infiltrators for 20 months. But holes keep opening in the net. Last month Marines arrested several members of the Iraqi Border Patrol on corruption charges and disbanded their unit of 183 men.

    It was bad enough that border agents were helping travelers get around customs for a small fee. They reportedly also were smuggling fighting-age males into Iraq.

    "They were corrupt and not doing their job," said Capt. Chris Curtin, 33, executive officer of the Marines stationed in Walid as well as the nearby Jordanian entry point at Trebil. "It was . . . prevalent throughout the unit."

    Most Syrians entering Iraq illegally do it only to make money, Curtin said. They smuggle goods or buy cheap gasoline to resell in Syria.

    But insurgents also are coming across, the Marines said. They probably spend a short time in safe houses near the border before joining guerrillas in Ramadi, Fallujah, Baghdad or--increasingly, according to Iraqi officials--in the northern city of Mosul.

    "It's really hard for us to measure--we don't know how really good it is going or really how bad it's going," Curtin said. "They are very creative about the way they smuggle."

    The insurgents are creative, Iraqi officials say, because they are experienced, skilled and well-funded by their paymasters in Damascus.

    "There are tens of thousands of high-ranking Baathists in Damascus," said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi national security adviser. "There are people from the former Iraqi intelligence agencies, from the special forces and Republican Guards."

    The two names Iraqi officials mention most often are Mohammed Younis al-Ahmed and Sabaawi al-Hassan, a half brother of Saddam Hussein. Officials say the two men move easily between Iraq and Syria.

    Security chief incredulous

    "These people are very active in raising funds, in providing logistical help to the terrorists in Iraq, in planning and in command and control and leadership," al-Rubaie said. "Can anyone believe that the Syrian intelligence service does not know about this? . . . They are meticulous.

    "The Syrians are turning a blind eye to these activities."

    A Western official in Baghdad said some Iraqi and U.S. authorities believe the Syrian government, or at least a branch of the Syrian government, is directly involved in aiding the insurgency.

    Other officials believe Syria's leadership is content to sit on the sidelines and watch the guerrillas pile up corpses and problems for the U.S. government. The more the American military struggles to stabilize Iraq, the Syrians may reason, the less likely the Bush administration will be to directly confront the Damascus regime or try to dictate changes in the Middle East.

    Tied down fighting in Iraq, the thousands of U.S. troops deployed across Syria's eastern border are not so unnerving.

    As it is, patrolling the border area, vast and desolate and reminiscent of West Texas, is a relentless challenge for the Marines and a new group of Iraqi border agents.

    Called the Desert Wolves and deployed less than a month ago, the Iraqi unit's members are mostly men with experience in the Iraqi army during Hussein's regime. They come from outside Anbar province, a move aimed at stemming corruption. And theirs will be larger than the previous group, with 250 agents in uniform now and 750 expected to join, said Col. Walter Miller, commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

    `A huge improvement'

    The new Iraqi unit already has proved more effective, said 1st Lt. Bill Soucie, the Marine officer in charge of day-to-day operations in Walid.

    "They aren't going to play to any sort of tribal loyalty and give certain people favors," Soucie said. "The fact that they want to do the job honestly is already a huge improvement."

    During a weekend visit, Col. Miller huddled with the Iraqis for a pep talk. Through an interpreter, he emphasized the importance of curbing the foreign element of the insurgency.

    Most of the two dozen patrol officers fixed a puzzled look at him. And whenever Miller paused, an officer repeatedly tried to ask when the unit would get its first paycheck from Iraq's Interior Ministry.

    "The last thing you should be worried about now is money," Miller finally said. "If you don't do your job, all the money in the world won't matter. . . . Because if you don't do your job, you will lose your country to the insurgents."


  13. #13
    Reservists prepare to answering the call
    By Madeline Baró Diaz
    The Sun Sentinel Miami Bureau
    January 8, 2005

    MIAMI LAKES · Cpl. Eric Reid boils his mission in Iraq down to five words: "I'm going to hunt terrorists."

    But the Marine reservist, who is days away from his second deployment to the region, acknowledges that figuring out who the bad guys are will be more difficult this time around. Instead of uniformed enemy soldiers, he and his fellow Marines will be up against insurgents dressed like civilians whose methods of attacking U.S. forces include using explosive devices and suicide bombings.

    "You can't tell who you're fighting," said Reid, 26, of Lauderhill. "You have to treat everybody as if they're a civic citizen of the sovereign [nation], but those are the same people who probably want to take your life in a heartbeat."

    On Monday, Reid will be one of about 30 reservists from the Scout Platoon, members of the 8th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, who will leave for Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for intense training before they ship off to Iraq. While at Camp Lejeune, they'll be joined by about 50 Marines from the battalion's anti-tank and headquarters platoons, who will join anti-terrorism forces in the African nation of Djibouti.

    The reservists, who are expected to return in the fall, will spend this weekend at early birthday celebrations for their children, movie dates with their girlfriends, and enjoying such indulgences as McDonald's hamburgers that they will not taste again for some time.

    As the soldiers savor their last moments at home, their loved ones worry about the new dangers the Marines will face.

    "I try not to think about it," said Tauna Higgins, Reid's girlfriend. "I'm just not with it, with them going over there. Until I can completely understand what they're doing over there, it doesn't make sense. I don't approve of it."

    Reid and other Marines leaving Monday say they have a job to do. Reid feels especially responsible since, as one of the men from his battalion who is returning to Iraq, he will be in a leadership role.

    "I have to make sure everybody I take there I bring them back in one piece, including myself," he said. "I have people under my command: fathers, sons, husbands. I have to make sure they come back."

    Newlywed Maria Montano has faith that her husband, Cpl. Alfredo Montano, 27, will return. The last time Alfredo Montano went to Iraq, in 2003, they were dating. In December, they had a civil wedding ceremony, hastened by Montano's eminent deployment.

    While he is gone, Maria Montano will dedicate herself to planning a church wedding.

    "At least I won't bore him with all the details," she joked.

    Montano, 28, comforts herself with the fact that she knows the men in her husband's platoon and that they will all look out for each other.

    "I know they're ready; I know the unit is very strong," she said. "The reason they chose them is because they know what they're doing."

    While her husband is away, Montano, who lives in Homestead, will continue volunteering at the battalion headquarters in Miami Lakes, where she helps Marine families with everything from finding a babysitter to counseling referrals.

    "Helping other families cope with it also helps me cope with it," she said. "The families are pretty strong and they're all here to support the boys."

    Higgins, who said she supports her boyfriend but disagrees with the United States' mission in Iraq, said that the Iraqi people should be allowed to handle their own affairs. Reid has not convinced her that the U.S. presence is necessary, she said.

    "He tried to tell me what they're doing, but I just don't see it," Higgins said.

    Reid, however, said he will have to put his emotions and difference of opinion with Higgins aside when he boards the bus to North Carolina.

    "We're bringing liberty, prosperity ... freedom and a better way of life to a people who have never known democracy or freedom," he said. "At the end of the day, what's most important to me is that we are doing good."

    For those who are being deployed to Djibouti, their family members are breathing a sigh of relief. Although they believe their loved ones will be safer, some are still concerned that the African mission might be preparation for an eventual deployment to Iraq.

    That worries Angela Seisdedos, wife of Cpl. Antonio Seisdedos, who is already anxious about the extended separation from her husband. She said everything she's heard about the current situation in Iraq concerns her.

    "There's concerns about the [uncertainty] of who's on our side and who's not," she said.

    Antonio Seisdedos, 27, who lives in Tamarac, said he would be proud to serve in Iraq if needed. U.S. forces are giving Iraqis a foundation to build on by rebuilding towns and helping stabilize the country so Iraqis can hold elections, he said.

    "We hear a lot about the negative things that are happening, but there are also positive things," Seisdedos said.


  14. #14
    The Army's Gender War
    By Elaine Donnelly
    National Review Online
    Jan. 8, 2005

    I recently heard from a female soldier who feels betrayed by the Army. Calm but justifiably angry, the soldier said she is being assigned to a forward-support company that will "collocate" with the Army's new, modular infantry/armor land combat battalions. This is a serious change in policy, unfair to men and women soldiers alike.

    Under current regulations, women cannot be forced to serve in smaller direct ground-combat units such as infantry or armor battalions, or in companies that collocate with them. If the Defense Department wants to change these rules, law requires that the secretary must notify Congress no less than 30 legislative days in advance, when both houses are in session. Despite the "collocation rule" and the congressional notification law, the Army is unilaterally assigning women to previously all-male forward-support companies in its new "unit of action" land combat teams, which are key to the Army's "transformation" to a lighter, faster force.

    In letters signed by underlings, the Army claims compliance because the units in question will belong to gender-mixed brigade-support units operating elsewhere. This is only an administrative sleight of hand, which a May 10 Army briefing admitted could be seen as "subterfuge." Pentagon planners rearranged blocks on organizational charts, but in practice the forward-support companies in question will still be collocated with and organic to the Army's new combined infantry/armor maneuver battalions 100 percent of the time.

    What's worse, Army officials have tried to mislead Congress about their intent. During a November 3, 2004, briefing for congressional staffers, Pentagon officials denied any violation or change in rules exempting female soldiers from assignments in land-combat-collocated units. A different briefing conducted inside the Pentagon on November 29 stated that the preferred "way ahead" is to "rewrite/eliminate the Army collocation policy."

    When the Washington Times reported the duplicity on December 13, Army Staff Director Lt. Gen. James Campbell immediately issued a widely distributed memo warning about "Information Security" and the loss of "positive control of pre-decisional briefing materials, decision memorandums, and otherwise generally sensitive information." President Bush and the Congress should ask, Why is this matter so sensitive?

    Some military decisions must remain confidential, but this is not one of them. The 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., has been quietly training women for the new land-combat forward-support companies, while arrogantly claiming that the notification law does not apply. "Lessons learned" from the division's impending redeployment to Iraq will be declared a "success," but if (when) anything goes wrong, officials will blame the collocation rule that they intend to eliminate. Either scenario will betray the trust of soldiers and undermine the Army's own best interests.

    Some officials have made the unsupported claim that female soldiers will have to make up for shortages in male combat soldiers for the Army's new land-combat teams. To the extent the problem exists, gender-based recruiting quotas are to blame.

    Instead of dropping the gender quotas, the same officials are pursuing an illicit course of action that will erode the effectiveness of all land-combat troops, and eventually apply to special-operations forces and the Marine Corps. The Army has also defied logic in retaining co-ed basic training, acknowledged in 2002 to be "not efficient" in transforming civilians into disciplined soldiers. Revised "warrior training" programs sound impressive, but gender-normed standards emasculate the concept by assuring "success" for average female trainees. Soldiers know that there is no gender-norming on the battlefield.

    The nation is proud of our women in uniform, but that is no excuse for forcing unprepared female soldiers, many of whom are mothers, to face the physical demands of violent close combat and a higher risk of capture than exists today. In the Army's own surveys over a decade, 85 to 90 percent of enlisted women said they strongly oppose such policies. Their opinions matter no more than those of male soldiers, who will have to bear new "female force protection" burdens that could complicate dangerous missions.

    Combat commanders will have to cope with significant personnel losses, distractions, and social turmoil that will be more intense in the heat of war. Predictable problems include far higher rates of medical leave and evacuations, primarily due to pregnancy, which Army officials refuse to reveal or discuss. Making the mix even more volatile will be sexual attractions, personal misconduct, and accusations of same.

    Forget feminist legends about Amazon warriors and push-button wars. The modern land-combat soldier carries weapons and high-tech equipment weighing 50 to 100 pounds, with body armor alone weighing 25 pounds. Such burdens would be disproportionately heavy for average female soldiers, who are certainly brave but shorter and lighter, with smaller hearts and bones, 25 to30 percent less aerobic capacity for endurance, and 40 to 50 percent less upper-body strength.

    Politically correct group-thinkers and Clinton-promoted generals in the Pentagon apparently have forgotten certain realities affirmed by overwhelming evidence: In direct ground combat, women do not have an "equal opportunity" to survive, or to help fellow soldiers survive. No one's injured son should have to die on the streets of a future Fallujah because the only soldier near enough to carry him to safety was a five-foot-two 110-pound woman.

    The concerned soldier who contacted me recognized that the Army is about to conduct an unannounced, extremely dangerous live-fire social experiment under wartime conditions. With deployments imminent, what can be done?

    President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must intervene to enforce the notification law and encourage the recruitment of young men. In long-overdue congressional hearings, members should require Pentagon officials to document alleged shortages of males, and explain why female soldiers should have to pay the price for the Army's bureaucratic errors. Congressmen worried about the sexual abuse of military women should be consistent in expressing concern about the elevated risk of combat violence at the hands of the enemy.

    Today's changing battlefield makes it even more important to retain personnel policies that recognize combat realities that have not changed. The collocation rule should be strengthened, not weakened, and applied consistently in all units that collocate with direct ground-combat forces. At times we have no choice but to send young men into land combat, but we do have a choice when it comes to sending our women there.

    - Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness, an independent public policy organization that specializes in military personnel issues.


  15. #15
    Colonel says Marines foresaw Iraq-style war
    Arizona Central
    Jan. 8, 2005 12:00 AM

    Col. James J. Cooney is the commander of the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. In a recent interview with The Arizona Republic, he commented on some issues.

    QUESTION: Did the Marine Corps foresee the type of urban combat going on in Iraq?

    ANSWER: In the Marine Corps, we've been talking about this kind of scenario for over a decade. We call it a three-block war. Iraq was never really labeled as a country where it would happen, but as far as the scenario, it's absolutely on the mark. We've been reading, writing, discussing it at our command and staff colleges for years.

    Q: During Desert Talon (war games), officers were badgering the young Marines, telling them they better think and be able to make decisions rapidly and even take over leadership in certain instances. How does that jibe with following orders?

    A: It's all about thinking. You put them . . . in an environment that makes them go through a number of decisions. Some of the decisions will be right, and we'll reinforce those. Some . . . will be wrong, and you'll also reinforce that. We would much rather they fail here than fail as they go forward. Following orders is part of that self-discipline, but the real issue is what are you doing and why are you doing it? This is all about combat decision-making skills.

    Q: Have the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq changed what you do here?

    A: Well, there's a sense of urgency, certainly. The guys that we called the rear-echelon guys, there's no more rear echelon. Some of the guys who are in the biggest danger, frankly, are disbursement clerks. Who do you think is carrying all this cash around to pay claims to damaged neighborhoods? A lot of things get fixed with U.S. dollars. There are young Marines from here, carrying heavy backpacks filled with a lot of dollar bills, who are taking care of business literally while the shooting's going on.


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